Glass...So Hot Its Cool!
Adding Glass in Your Ceramic Studio by Bisque Imports
Looking for a new fired art for your ceramic studio? Go for glass! As the contemporary ceramic industry matures we find ourselves exploring new creative options to share with our customers. We have seen studios venture and succeed in areas varying from wheel throwing and painting technique classes to beading and stuffed animals. While every studio must find its own niche based on their customers and environment, glass can work in any studio.
Many studios prefer to work with only kiln-fired arts. Glass in your studio is a natural addition as you are able to use your ceramic kiln for firing. You can increase sales while offering a new fired art into your studio. Our customers seem to have an insatiable desire for new ideas and projects. Glass allows you to provide your customers with the hottest new trend, literally. Glass also provides a perceived higher value than pottery. This high-end product is ideal for the contemporary customer that is looking for something truly unique, plus it is easy and fun!
In speaking with studio owners that have already begun to delve into the glass craze have found that adults are some of the major patrons for glass fusing and slumping. They also find that men are drawn to glass projects. What a fantastic way to refresh a girl'Âs night out or party!
An ideal way to begin working with glass is to start with a pre-cut base. These may be found in opalescent (opals), translucent and iridescent colors. You are most likely aware that you can see through translucent glass. The term opalescent may bring to mind a pearlized color, but that is not necessarily the case. Opalescent glass is actually opaque. Iridescent colors are great as accents in a project.
Glass Shapes may be purchased from some suppliers in varying sizes of circles and squares. Once a base is selected, glass is cut and added, mosaic-style, to the base to create a design. Frit, noodles, stringers, strips and scrap pieces of glass are perfect for creating works of art. Frit is small granules of glass that range in size from powder to chunks the size of rock salt. Noodles are thin strips of glass that resemble linguine while stringers resemble angel hair pasta. Once these works of art are fused in a kiln, they may then be slumped in molds to take a new shape.
Glass naturally wants to be 1/4" thick. Glass sheets that you purchase from suppliers are generally 1/8" thick. Therefore, you will need to layer another 1/8" layer of glass on top of the base. If you do not have two layers of glass, it will shrink or expand to return to its natural state of 1/4" thick. It is not necessarily required to create two layers when a project will only be tack-fused. Tack fusing takes place when pieces are fired at a temperature lower than a full fuse. The pieces will fuse together but not completely. They will keep their definition instead of melting together to create one layer as in a full fuse.
When adding glass to your studio, a firing schedule is essential. While contemporary studios fire many times throughout a week, a specific firing schedule is vital for completing customers'Â projects in a timely manner. By dedicating a specific day for firing you are better able to accommodate the added firing at a temperature. This also allows for proper scheduling of staff trained to load and fire glass. You may find that you fire one day per week when you begin your journey with glass. As your customers'Â interest grows, you will find yourself adding additional firing days for both fusing and slumping. Some studios fire glass on Monday and Tuesday since they usually have the largest amount of glass projects produced on the weekends.
Glass is economical for the studio due to the fact that there is virtually no waste. By using small bits of glass and glass "scraps" that are commonly kept on hand, you are able to extend your glass inventory for more projects.
n most contemporary studios that sell glass a fusing fee is included in the project price. A customer may pay $35 for a 10" square base. That fee will include all supplies needed to create a one-of-a-kind work of art including glass pieces with which to decorate the base. The cost of the first firing (fuse firing) is included in the $35. In most cases, there is no studio fee as many studios collect when painting pottery (hourly studios).
Most customers like to have their glass piece slumped into a mold. While you may purchase molds created specifically for slumping glass, you may also use a selection of bisque shapes that your studio carries in which to slump the fused glass designs. Simply drill several holes in the bisque piece, apply mold primer and fire! Holes are drilled in the bisque to allow air to release while the glass is slumping. A slumping fee is generally charged to re-fire the piece at slumping temperature. Some studios charge a basic fee of $6 but of course, that varies by studio. Prices for glass projects range from $10 to $50. When you consider the cost of goods and return on investment, you will realize that glass is a great option for the contemporary studio.
Another unique option in fusing glass is small detailed casting molds. Generally, a piece of glass is fused first then slumped. With casting molds you may place frit of varying sizes to fill a mold with a specific design such as a butterfly, heart or a pendant. These pieces may then be used as sun catchers, jewelry, garden stake or an addition to another glass piece.
You will often see 96 COE and 90 COE glass by suppliers that are working with the contemporary studios market. It is important to remember that glass with different coefficients of expansion (COEs) should not be mixed. The glass from different COEs expands and contracts at different rates. Thus, there is always tension between the two and the piece can break when it is finished or even during the firing.
Prior to placing glass in a mold, primer should be applied and allowed to dry for at least 24 hours before using. Mold primer works similarly to ceramic kiln wash in that it keeps glass from sticking to the mold. The difference between ceramic kiln wash and primer specifically made for use with glass is ceramic kiln wash will more likely stick to glass when it is fused. Ceramic kiln wash is also thicker and will leave texture on the glass piece.
Once a mold has been primed it may be used without reapplication for three to four firings. It is wise to check the glass and mold to see if primer is sticking to the glass or if the mold shows signs of primer clumps or flakes. If the primer is coming off then clean the mold and apply several fresh layers of primer. If you do not need to re-apply mold primer all over, you may touch it up. Keep mold primer in an air-tight container.
Building Your Piece
Have all customers read instructions, complete with pictures, prior to beginning their glass project. This helps the customer to understand the process and also protects you in the event that they choose to not follow directions. Providing an idea book with plenty of glass project samples for inspiration is ideal. It is easy to get the blank canvas stare when your customer is just beginning to work with glass.
Once the customer is ready to create they will select their base glass, choose colors, and begin applying glass bits, stringers, noodles and frit. Clear, black and white rounds and square blanks are very popular.
To help keep edges clean and in proper shape, it is a good idea to start with a border. Use small bits of glass (1/2") to create a border on round bases. On square bases, strips of glass are ideal for creating a smooth edge. Once these are glued onto the base piece, you may begin creating the rest of the design. Using glue to attach the borders and other designs helps to keep pieces in place while designing the piece and moving it to the kiln.
It is important to be consistent in the application of the top layer of your glass. Remember that you will need two layers of glass to create the best possible finished piece. If the piece is not somewhat evenly layered, the piece will pull to create 2 layers. This can result in the creation of holes in the piece and obscuring the design.
Customers may cut to create shapes and sizes needed for their project. It is wise to require that safety glasses be worn when cutting glass! Wearing gloves is a helpful measure in protecting hands from cuts while working with glass. Using a work board keeps glass shards (produced when cutting glass) contained and your studio clean.
Once the customer has completed their piece, the studio employee should carefully examine the piece to insure that frit is layered properly and that they have the proper information for slumping. The employees must be willing to add more frit if necessary or ask customer to add more frit. A checklist of things to look for will be helpful for employees.
Firing Your Piece
It is important to remember that fusing and slumping occur in two separate firings; the first being fusing. Slumping occurs when the piece is fired to a lower temperature than the fusing temperature.
It is recommended by many glass suppliers that glass projects should be placed on fiber paper for every fuse firing. One reason is if a piece is fired on a kiln-washed shelf the texture of the shelf will make an impression in the glass. Most importantly, the fiber paper allows air to be released from under the glass. A kiln-washed shelf will not allow air through and the lack of air can cause large bubbles to form that will pop and disfigure the piece. One-eighth inch fiber paper is ideal. Typically, one side is more textured than the other so choose the side for the texture that you prefer. A medium speed firing schedule works very well for full fuse, tack fuse and slumping.
Character pods (casting molds), basic blanks and basic slump molds provide an excellent starting point for launching glass in your studio. As you and your customers become more proficient in working with glass, you may wish to add more unique molds such as drop out molds.
When loading the kiln, be sure that there is 1" of fiber paper exposed around the piece. A piece of glass should not be balanced on two shelves with a gap in between like we often do with pottery. If the glass melts off of the paper and over the shelves, you can damage not only your piece, but your kiln as well.
After the kiln has worked it magic, be sure to wait until it has reached room temperature prior to opening the lid. Upon removing the pieces, clean the fiber paper off of back of fused pieces and rinse with water. Then, use an abrasive sanding ribbon to smooth the back and the edges of the glass. Now your piece is ready to be slumped!
Marketing Glass Fusing and Slumping
Samples sell! As you practice working with glass (prior to offering it to your customers) you will be creating lots of samples. Be sure to use a variety of colors and styles so that you may inspire adults and children alike. Glass fusing classes work well and are often better attended than pottery painting technique classes. Like pottery classes, you can use more advanced techniques when in a class setting.
Suppliers often offer marketing materials on their websites and in their packages. One supplier even offers a flyer template and postcard template on their site. These are designed so that you may insert your logo and studio information and use them as signs, flyers, bag stuffers and mailers to promote your newest studio offering.
Some studios create signs with glass and display them in their windows and in the studio to grasp the attention of customers and potential glass artists. What better way to promote a product? Make it colorful and people will notice.
Fun With Glass
Glass offers limitless possibilities in your studio. A class auction project will get a fresh twist when each student glues some glass onto a base to create one large work of art. Bridal parties may now create festive glass pieces for the betrothed couple. A set of dessert plates and a serving platter would be a fun gift from the bridal party. Glass is fantastic for a group enjoying a girl'Âs night out and even for kids'Â birthday parties!
Casting molds offer project ideas ranging from sun catchers, garden stakes and jewelry to gluing them to a fired ceramic piece. These small molds are great for summer camps and after school art programs.
Whatever path you choose for your ceramic studio, be sure to explore the opportunities that glass provides. Glass fusing is fun, easy and will add to your bottom line!